I wrote not long ago about the air traffic control person who fell asleep at the switch, and in that piece I revealed that I am a bit of a nervous flyer and feel it is my job to help the airplane I am riding in stay aloft through sheer force of will. I realize that this revelation perhaps makes me look a little foolish or wimpy, but I don’t really care about how it makes me look. Hell, I look foolish and wimpy a lot. I’m used to it.
It’s really not so much a fear of flying as it is a fear of plunging 35,000 feet to my fiery death, which to me is a completely reasonable fear. Some people are afraid of snakes, while other people are fond of them; no one is fond of javelining into the ground at 500mph. You see where I’m coming from here? As long as everything is by the book and smooth sailing, I’m fine with flying. But it just seems like a lot of the time there’s one damn thing or another when I’m on a plane.
I took a flight out of Reno one time, and it was so damn hot that day that the pilot decided after getting all of the passengers seated (and presumably eyeing our collective girth) that they needed to unload and weigh all of the luggage to make sure they could take off with just one engine in case the other one failed. While I appreciated their thoroughness, good God, were we cutting it that close?
Another time, speaking of passenger girth, I was on a little puddle-jumper flight. Oh, the plane said “TWA” on the side, but I have strong suspicions that had that plane fallen off the radar in mid-flight, no one would have come looking for us until relatives began making inquiries. It had maybe 20 seats in it and you couldn’t fully stand up inside. Shortly before takeoff, the pilot drew aside the curtain—yes, a bit of cloth was all that separated me from being at the controls—and asked me and my then-wife to switch to different seats so as to “balance the plane.”
Now, look, I’m more than happy to do my part to keep the plane up in the air with my prayers and whatnot, but if getting up to hike to the commode (not that this plane was big enough to have a commode) would throw the thing so out of balance that it impacts the performance of the craft, well I’d just as soon take a bus, and I hate the bus. That day, as Mother Nature used our flight as her personal paddleball game, I learned the value of “smile therapy.” I plastered a goofy grin on my face for the entirety of the two hours we were in the air, and by pretending to enjoy it, well, I wouldn’t say I actually enjoyed it but it could have been far, far worse.
On a flight I was on a week or two ago, I sat next to a chatty fellow who told me as we descended for landing, “This is the part of flying I hate.” I’m too kind of a person to respond that the part of flying I hate is sitting next to strangers who want to gab (also known as “distracting me from willing the plane to stay airborne”), so I just responded that thankfully it was almost over. Frankly, though, while I understand that experts like to tell you that it’s the most dangerous part of flying, descent is my favorite part. It means we’re getting closer to reclaiming our rightful place of being swaddled in the bosom of Mother Earth. What’s not to like about the landing? Although there was that time I was on a flight that had to do a go-around after coming within 50 feet of the ground because another plane crossed our landing path…